Doctoruna: making healthcare accessible in MENA

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Since they launched in 2013, healthcare appointment website and mobile app Doctoruna has been on a mission to minimize the all too common agony of finding the right doctor for an ailment.

And they haven’t done badly.

Since its founding, Docotruna has successfully facilitated more than 20,000 doctor-patient connections via online appointments and inquiries.

Haj Ali wants to solve the problem of connecting patients and doctors.

CEO Reem Haj Ali has been in the healthcare industry in multiple capacities for over 15 years. Describing herself as a bit of gypsy, Haj Ali lived on almost every continent before settling in the UAE IN 1997 to begin a career as a physical rehabilitation clinician at Al Noor Hospital, in Abu Dhabi. She later moved to American Hospital in Dubai, where she launched the physical medicine and rehabilitation department.

“For 11 years my experience went from purely clinical to more of an admin role in hospital management and customer service,” she said.

The administration side offered Haj Ali a view into all that would happen, behind the scenes, in a hospital before the clinician met the patient, noting that “other than treating patients, we used to work on policies and protocol and how to improve healthcare access”.

Realizing a disconnect

As a natural extension of her job, Haj Ali was constantly asked by friends and acquaintances for doctor referrals or recommendations.

“People really had a problem knowing who the best person was to go to and [we didn’t] have a place or a platform where people go and search everything… People [always] have trust issues with healthcare,” she told Wamda.

That is when the cofounders of online job recruitment platform Bayt entered the fray.

“We had been thinking of how to ​offer our users more services to facilitate their life and expand on this reservoir of socio-demographic information of people [we had built],” said Akram Assaf, Bayt cofounder and chief technology officer.

After founding Bayt in 2000, the team launched ecommerce website GoNabit, invested in online baby shopping platform Mumzworld, and developed automobile portal Yalla Motor. Continuing their tradition of building online marketplaces, Assaf and Bayt’s other cofounders approached Haj Ali, who they knew through a shared network, with the idea for Doctoruna. Bayt’s interest in healthcare and Haj Ali’s experience as a clinician and administrator proved the perfect collaborating point.

“The medical field is very fragmented,” Assaf explained, “The kind of technologies that are being employed ​span from fully comprehensive HR systems ​to simple manual processes by a clinic receptionist trying to juggle around and find the best possible way of filling a doctor’s appointment book, dealing with cancellation, and being limited by a certain number of hours they could operate.”

Finding the doctor you want, where you want. (Images via Doctoruna)

The fragmented model further restricts the medical practitioner’s engagement with a growing online user database that craves immediate information “without having to interact with humans in the middle”, Assaf added.

Building a link

At the heart of Doctoruna is simplifying access to healthcare and health information. Platform users can filter their doctor search by location, specialty, insurance coverage, and language. For those still seeking personal interaction or who have a question, Doctoruna offers a live chat feature, which, Haj Ali pointed out, are handled by members of their 20 person team.

Doctor Una
The 'mascot' Doctor Una.

Doctoruna was also consciously created to benefit a bilingual population. The name itself is a manifestation of that intention— in Arabic, Doctoruna translates to ‘our doctor’, while in English the name stands for Dr. Una, which is also the platform’s mascot. The platform is free for users while hospitals and doctors have to pay to be included in the database.

Privacy and user experience, for both doctors and patients, are a top priority for the platform.

“We tried to be non intrusive… the minimalism works both ways, so that the person can achieve what he wants when it comes to booking and at the same time minimize the amount of assets that would have to be carried on in terms of information [during the booking],” Assaf said. “There are multiple layers of protection and encryption that we put inside our system, and there is a clear segregation of authorities in terms of how [information] is being accessed and by whom within the organization itself.”

Doctoruna introduced a series of confirmation steps for patients and doctors to further boost the verification process. For instance, in order for a patient to access the review option for a doctor, they need to have booked an appointment and seen the doctor.

On the doctor’s end, DocotorUna requires all doctors to give a copy of their medical certifications, including a license from the Dubai Health Authority (DHA). The team then creates a bio of the doctor that includes their speciality, graduating school, and a list of cases in their portfolio, among other highlights.

“We want to give users a story…we are empowering users with information,” Haj Ali said. “People are smart. They want to know where did [the doctor] graduate from, what does he specialize in, what does he sub-specialize in? The more information the doctor provides us with, the better his profile.”

According to a recent Doctoruna term report, the website recorded two million unique visitors in 2015, and hosts more than 2,000 doctors from across the region, with over 80 different specialties.

For the
American Centre for Psychiatry & Neurology, which joined the platform in November 2014, partnership has been incredibly helpful.

“It has improved our exposure to the community, of course, and the number of patients by giving them a tool to reach psychology services,” said Hazem Abouagwa, the centre’s director of operations. “The other dimension is the [patient] feedback, which to be honest, is a very good [service] and Doctoruna should keep doing.”

Doctoruna now has offices in Kuwait and the UAE, with listed doctors in Jordan, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, because “people now move around much easier than they used to, and a lot of people are willing to fly”, said Haj Ali, adding that Doctoruna attracts patients from outside the region as well.

While healthcare information platforms like WebTeb and Al Tibbi grow in the region, Haj Ali says Doctoruna remains singular in the experience it offers. Noting that Webteb and Altibbi provide information to be consumed and is not transactional, Doctoruna’s “system is built around a transactional model where users evaluate doctors options based on many variables and book appointments accordingly.”

Doctoruna has also branched out in the type of work it does. In addition to sponsoring a multitude of healthcare events and developing 'Una Practice', a standalone management software for hospitals, Doctoruna publishes research studies on field practices as well as online behavior in healthcare.

For Assaf, it is essential for Doctoruna to continue “deliver[ing] the same level of seamless experience for both [doctors and patients], help the clinics and doctors better manage not only the appointment side but a lot of other resources in a clinic, and for different organizations to become a part of the service.”

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